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2004 unrest in Kosovo
Date 17–18 March 2004
Location Kosovo[lower-alpha 1]
Flag of Serbia (1992–2004) Kosovo Serbs Civil Ensign of Albania Kosovo Albanians
Flag of Serbia (1992–2004) Over 10,000[citation needed] Civil Ensign of Albania Over 50,000[5]
Casualties and losses
Flag of Serbia (1992–2004) 16 killed
100+ wounded
Civil Ensign of Albania 11 Killed
300+ wounded

Violent unrest in Kosovo[lower-alpha 1] broke out on 17 March 2004. Kosovo Albanians, numbering over 50,000,[6] took part in widescale attacks on the Serbian people, compared by the then Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica to ethnic cleansing[1] It was the largest violent incident in the province since the Kosovo War of 1998-99. During the unrest, 19 civilians were killed (8 ethnic Serbs and 11 ethnic Albanians), over 4,000 Serbs were forced to leave their homes, 935 Serb houses, 10 public facilities (schools, health care centers and post offices) and 35 Serbian Orthodox church-buildings were desecrated, damaged or destroyed, and six towns and nine villages were ethnically cleansed according to Serbian media[3][7][8]

The events were also called "Kristallnacht of Kosovo"[9] and in Serbia "March Pogrom".[6][9][10][11][12][13]

Events in Kosovo preceding the 2004 unrestEdit

More than 164,000 members of Kosovo's minorities had fled the province in the immediate aftermath of the war. This is especially true in the case of Serbs and Romani.[14] Ethnic tensions and territorial dispute have been a major problem in Kosovo for many years that sparked the Kosovo War of 1998-99 in which an estimated 10,000 people died, almost entirely Albanian civilians, which is also the reason cited by the U.S. State Department on the grounds of human rights abuses in order to justify the attacks on Yugoslavia.[15][16][17] Since the end of the war, the province has been administered by the UN under the auspices of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), with security provided by the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR).

Those that remained organized themselves into enclaves guarded by peacekeeping forces. Low-level violence continued after the war. Serbian minorities in Kosovo claimed to have been subjected to "persistent intimidation and harassment", though the level of violence is reported to have declined somewhat since the end of the war. There have also been repeated attacks on Serbian Orthodox churches, shrines and other cultural monuments, with over a hundred being destroyed or damaged. Clashes had also broken out between Serbs and Albanians in the ethically Serb-dominated north of Kosovo, with Albanians harassing Serbs and chasing them out of their homes.

Shooting of Serbian teenEdit

The latest unrest began on 15 March 2004 with the drive-by shooting of an 18-year-old Serb, Jovica Ivić, in the village of Čaglavica in the central region of Kosovo.[18] Local Serbs from the village staged demonstrations and blocked traffic in protest at the shooting tragedy.

Drowning of Albanian childrenEdit

On 16 March, three Albanian children drowned in the Ibar River in the village of Čabar, near the Serb community of Zubin Potok. A fourth boy survived. It was speculated that he and his friends had been chased into the river by Serbs in revenge for the shooting of Ivić the previous day, but this claim has not been proven.[19]

UN police spokesman Neeraj Singh said the surviving boy had been under intense pressure from ethnic Albanian journalists who had suggested what he should say. His version of events differed from that of two other children who had also been in the river, Singh told a news conference in Pristina. The spokesperson said there were "very significant" inconsistencies in the accounts given by the child during two separate interviews, and a lack of corroboration of his story. "In fact, it is logically at odds in several respects with other evidence," Mr. Singh said.[20][21]


The following day thousands of Kosovo Albanians, protesting against the boys' deaths, gathered at the south end of the bridge across the Ibar at Kosovska Mitrovica, which divides the Serbian and Albanian districts of the town. A large crowd of Serbs gathered at the north end to prevent the Albanians from crossing. Peacekeepers from the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) blockaded the bridge, using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to keep the crowds apart. However, gunmen on both sides opened fire with sub-machine guns and grenades, killing at least eight people (two Albanians and six Serbs) and wounding over 300. Eleven peacekeepers were also injured, of which two seriously.

The violence continued on 18 March with further demonstrations in many localities across Kosovo, notably at Čaglavica again and also in Kosovska Mitrovica, Lipljan, Obilic and Pristina. The casualty toll at the end of the day was 28 and 600 people were injured, including 61 peacekeepers and 55 police officers. U.N. spokeswoman Isabella Karlowitz said 110 houses and 16 churches were destroyed. She also reported that around 3,600 people had been made homeless by the violence, including but not limited to Serbs, Romani, and Ashkali.[22][23]

Attacks on Kosovo SerbsEdit

Church of the Holy Saviour - Prizren

Remains of Serbian Orthodox Church of Holy Salvation, Prizren from the 14th century, destroyed in March 2004.

Devič Monastery interior

Interior of Devič monastery after it was damaged by arson.

Downtown Vista with Ruins of Serb House Destroyed in 2004 Pogrom - Prizren - Kosovo

Overgrown ruins of a Serb-owned house that was destroyed by the rioters.


14th-century icon from Our Lady of Ljeviš in Prizren, one of the Serbian churches which were burned.

The violence quickly spread to other parts of Kosovo, with Kosovo Serb communities and religious and cultural symbols attacked by crowds of Albanians. Some of these locations were ostensibly under the protection of KFOR at the time. During the riots and violence, eight Kosovo Serbians were killed. Among damaged property was the targeted cultural and architectural heritage of the Serb people, and as a result 35 churches, including 18 monuments of culture, were demolished, burnt or severely damaged.

The sites of violence included:

  • Belo Polje – Serb returnees attacked[24]
  • Čaglavica – 11 Serb houses set on fire, 5 Serbs killed[citation needed]. 17 Swedish soldiers wounded.
  • Kosovo Polje – Serb houses and a hospital set on fire;
  • Lipljan – gunfights between KFOR and Albanians, 4 Serbs killed,[24] remaining Serbs took refugee in Orthodox Church which was attacked;
  • Peć – rioting in which UN offices were attacked; one Albanian killed by UN police.[24]
  • Pristina – all remaining Serbs evacuated or forced out.[24] Desecration of St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox church.
  • Gnjilane – all remaining Serbs evacuated or forced out[24]
  • Cernica, Serb village near Gnjilane – 3 Serbs killed[citation needed]
  • Svinjare, Serb village near Kosovska Mitrovica – 4 Serbs killed[citation needed]
  • Obilić – Serb houses burnt, all Serbs chased out[24]
  • Vitina – Attack on church prevented by US Army KFOR troops, Orthodox priest injured, demonstrators threw rocks at US Army soldiers and set fire to many Serb homes.[citation needed]
  • Drajkovce, village near Štrpce – 2 Serbs killed[citation needed]
  • Grabac – Serbian village, most Serbs evacuated by Italian peacekeepers to Osojane, some parts of Grabac attacked.

In a statement on 18 March, the Serbian Orthodox Church reported that a number of its churches and shrines in Kosovo had been damaged or destroyed by rioters. These included:[25][26]

  • Prizren:
    • Our Lady of Ljeviš Cathedral (Bogorodica Ljeviška) from the 12th century was burned down on 17 March
    • Church of Holy Salvation (Sveti Spas) from the 14th century
    • Holy Hieromartyr George Cathedral (Sv. velikomučenika Đorđa), built in 1887 and housing the 14th century icon of Mary and an 18th-century iconostasis
    • Monastery of the Holy Archangels from the 14th century
    • Church of St. George Runović, from the 15th century with 16th century iconostasis gates
    • Seat of the Diocese of Raška and Prizren
    • Building of Sts. Cyrill and Methodius Orthodox Seminary, from 1880, sacked
  • Peć:
    • Church of St. John the Baptist (Svetog Jovana Preteče i Krstitelja) set on fire on 17 March in Pećka Banja village
    • Saint Elijah Church destroyed and desecrated, coffins from the nearby Serbian cemetery were dug up, and bones of the dead were scattered away.[27]
    • Belo Polje village church of St. Nicholas from the 19th century
  • Đakovica: Church of the Ascension of Our Lord (Uspenja Gospodnjeg) from the 19th century, torched along with the parochial residence on March 17. Reports of Albanians clearing the ruins of the Church of the Holy Trinity, destroyed in 1999.
  • Uroševac: Church of Tzar St. Uroš
  • Kosovo Polje:
  • Gnjilane: Church of St. Nicholas from 1861
  • Pristina: Church of St. Nicholas from the 19th century, damaged and sacked
  • Vučitrn: Church of St. Elijah, burned down
  • Southern Kosovska Mitrovica: Church of Saint Sava set afire in the morning of March 18, adjoining Orthodox cemetery desecrated
  • Srbica: Devič Monastery, nuns evacuated by Danish soldiers, monastery pillaged and torched, the tomb of St. Joannicius of Devič was desecrated[28]
  • Štimlje: Church of St. Michael the Archangel set on fire on March 19
  • Orahovac: Bela Crkva and Brnjak village churches burnt
  • Vitina: Two destroyed churches, in town and in village of Donja Slapašnica
  • Obilić: Church set afire

Attacks on UN personnelEdit

The March events include the attacks on UN personnel. Serbian media reported that one foreigner (along with local staff) had been killed, whereas Albanian media said that some internationals had been wounded alongside local police. Both media claimed to have seen snipers from both sides and grenades thrown in face-to-face in gatherings.[citation needed]

Serbian reactionEdit

The events in Kosovo brought an immediate angry reaction on the streets of Serbia. On the evening of 17 March, crowds gathered in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš to demonstrate against the treatment of the Kosovo Serbs. Despite appeals for calm by Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the 17th century historic Bajrakli Mosque was attacked and set on fire. Islam Aga mosque in the southern city of Niš was also attacked and set on fire, while demonstrators chanted “Kill, kill Albanians!” When police arrived the mosque was already burning and some media reported that the police didn't move the crowd, so they blocked the fire fighters access to the mosque, leaving them unable to extinguish the fire.[29] Both buildings were extensively damaged but were saved from complete destruction by the intervention of police and firefighters.[30] Also properties of Muslim minorities, such as Goranis, Turks or Albanians were vandalized in Novi Sad and other cities throughout Serbia.[31] Human Rights Watch has concluded that the Serbian State failed to prosecute violence in Novi Sad.[29]

The Serbian government publicly denounced the violence in Kosovo. Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica gave a speech blaming organized Albanian separatists: "The events in northern Kosovo-Metohija reveal the true nature of Albanian separatism, its violent and terrorist nature ... [The government will] do all it can to stop the terror in Kosovo".[32] Koštunica strongly criticized the failure of NATO and the UN to prevent the violence, and called for a state of emergency to be imposed on Kosovo.

The Minister of Minority Rights of Serbia and Montenegro, Rasim Ljajić, himself a Muslim, said "What is now happening in Kosovo confirms two things: that this is a collapse of the international mission, and a total defeat of the international community."

Nebojsa Čović, the Serbian government's chief negotiator on matters relating to Kosovo, was sent to Kosovska Mitrovica on March 18 in a bid to calm the situation there. Serbian security forces also guarded the internal border between central Serbia and Kosovo in a bid to prevent demonstrators and paramilitaries from entering the province to foment further unrest.

The Serbs, represented by the "Union of Serbs in Kosovo and Metochia", describe the ordeal as "genocide" in a letter sent to the Serbian and Russian patriarchs, to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Serbian government, where, besides that, they quote the burning of 7 villages during the German occupation in World War II to the "several hundreds" burnt "under the rule of the troops of christian Europe and America" and according to which the "occupation of Kosovo surpasses all we had to sustain under fascism." The spared Serbian villages are compared to "concentration camps" because of the missing liberty of moving, electrical current and heating. According to the letter after 1999 there were 8500 homicides or disappearances of non-Albanian people with no single accomplice tried. They consider a possible secession of Kosovo by the Serbian government an "unforgivable neither by God nor by the people state treason".[33]

In 2011, seven years after the incident, Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić spoke at the Wheaton College in Chicago:

"In less than 72 hours, 35 churches and monasteries were set on fire, many of which date back to the 14th century or even further away in history, which represents an irretrievable loss for the mankind. Dozens of people were killed. Several thousand were wounded. Thousands of houses and shops were leveled to the ground. More than 4,000 Kosovo Serbs were expelled from their homes."[6]

International reactionEdit

The international community was taken by surprise by the sudden upsurge in violence. Kosovo had been fairly quiet since the end of 1999, although there had been occasional small-scale ethnic clashes throughout the past five years and an ongoing tension between Serbs and Albanians. This had, however, largely gone unnoticed by the Western media since 1999.

KFOR troops closed Kosovo's borders with the remainder of Serbia-Montenegro and the UN suspended flights in and out of the province. NATO announced on 18 March that it would send another 1,000 troops – 750 of them from the United Kingdom – to reinforce the 18,500 troops already there.[22][34]

The United Nations and European Union both appealed for calm, calling on local leaders to restrain their supporters. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged both sides to cooperate with the peacekeeping forces but pointedly reminded the Kosovo Albanians that they had a responsibility "to protect and promote the rights of all people within Kosovo, particularly its minorities".

An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) official in Austria called the events an orchestrated plan to drive out the remaining Serbs, while one anonymous UNMIK official reportedly referred to the event as Kosovo's Kristallnacht. The commander of NATO's South Flank, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, said on 19 March that the violence verged on ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians. On 20 March, Kosovo's UN administrator, Harri Holkeri, told journalists that "Maybe the very beginning was spontaneous but after the beginning certain extremist groups had an opportunity to orchestrate the situation and that is why we urgently are working to get those perpetrators into justice."[35]

According to Amnesty International, at least 19 people died—11 Albanians and eight Serbs—and over 1,000 were injured while some 730 houses belonging to minorities, mostly Kosovo Serbs, as well as 36 Orthodox churches, monasteries and other religious and cultural sites were damaged or destroyed. In less than 48 hours, 4,100 minority community members were newly displaced, (more than the total of 3,664 that had returned throughout 2003), of whom 82 per cent were Serbs and the remaining 18 per cent included Roma and Ashkali as well as an estimated 350 Albanians from the Serb majority areas of Kosovska Mitrovica and Leposavić.

  • Albania The government of Albania has "come out strongly against the violent actions of the Albanian side[citation needed]" and is aiming to calm the violence, according to Holkeri (Helsingin Sanomat).
  • Denmark Denmark pledged to send an additional 100 peacekeepers to the region after the violence began.[36]
  • Germany Germany's Defence Minister Peter Struck said on March 19 that a further 600 peacekeepers were being sent to join German forces in Kosovo, with deployment to the region beginning on March 20.[36]
  • France France pledged to send about 400 more troops immediately to the region after the violence began.[36]
  • Russia Russia and Serbia-Montenegro called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which condemned the violence. On 19 March, the Russian Duma passed a resolution (397 to 0) calling for the return of Serbia-Montenegro's troops to the southern province. Russia condemned KFOR and UNMIK's inabilities to stop the violence.
  • Serbia Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica has himself described the attacks as "planned in advance and co-ordinated... this was an attempted pogrom and ethnic cleansing" against Kosovo's Serbs.[36]
  • United Kingdom The United Kingdom sent an additional 750 peacekeeping soldiers, which arrived in the region's capital Pristina within 24 hours of the first attacks, to reinforce British troops already on the ground.[36]
  • United States White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters the Bush administration called "on all groups to end the violence and refrain from violence."[37] The U.S. State Department also repeated its call to stop the violence, stating: "The escalating violence threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation in Kosovo and must end."[37]

Reactions by Kosovo Albanian politiciansEdit

Kosovo Albanian politicians such as President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi joined UN governor Harri Holkeri, NATO southern commander Gregory Johnson, and other KFOR officials in condemning the violence and appealing for peace in Kosovo (B92).

Hashim Thaçi, the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) leader, "rejected ethnic division of Kosovo and said independence is a pre-condition for stability in the region." (VOA). He has also said, "Kosovo, NATO and the West have not fought for Kosovo only for Albanians, nor for a Kosovo ruled by violence... Violence is not the way to solve problems, violence only creates problems." (B92)

Kosovo Police established a special investigation team to handle cases related to the 2004 unrest and according to Kosovo Judicial Council by the end of 2006 the 326 charges filed by municipal and district prosecutors for criminal offenses in connection with the unrest had resulted in 200 indictments: convictions in 134 cases, and courts acquitted eight and dismissed 28; 30 cases were pending. International prosecutors and judges handled the most sensitive cases.[38] By March 2010, 143 Kosovars of Albanian ethnicity were convicted, of which 67 received prison terms of over a year.[3]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Kosovo clashes 'ethnic cleansing'". BBC News. 20 March 2004. Retrieved 22 April 2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 B92 | Six years since March violence in Kosovo
  5. Commentary No. 87: The Status of Kosovo: Political and Security Implications for the Balkans and Europe
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2, FM talks Kosovo at U.S. college, 18 March 2011
  7. Six Years as of March Pogrom Against Serbs in Kosovo
  8. Pogrom bez kazne
  9. 9.0 9.1 Anti-Serb programs in Kosovo, By The Washington Times
  10. Шест година од мартовског погрома
  11. Martovski pogrom Večernje novosti
  14. "Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 23 May 2006. 
  15. "Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  16. "Killings and Refugee Flow in Kosovo March - June 1999". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  17. "Expert Report". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  18. B92, 15.03.2004, U Čaglavici pucano na srpskog mladića iz automobila u pokretu
  19. "No evidence over Kosovo drownings". BBC. 2004-04-28. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  20. Lack of evidence stalls probe into drowning of 3 Kosovo children, UN Mission says
  21. UN Investigation Clears Serbs of Kosovo Drownings
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Kosovo rioters burn Serb churches". BBC. 2004-03-18. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  23. "Reuters article". Reuters. Retrieved 23 May 2006. [dead link]
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 b92: Hronologija događaja (16 - 22. mart 2004) (Serbian)
  25. b92: Dopunjeni i ispravljeni spisak uništenih i oštećenih pravoslavnih crkava i manastira na Kosovu u toku martovskog nasilja (26 April 2004) (Serbian)
  26. „Porušeni manastiri na Kosovu i Metohiji“ on YouTube, Office for Kosovo and Metohija (English)(Serbian)
  27. From "The Prague Post"
  28. Destruction of Devic Monastery 17-18 March
  29. 29.0 29.1 Dangerous Indifference: Violence against Minorities in Serbia: March 2004 Violence Against Albanians and Muslims
  30. "Churches & mosques destroyed amid inter-ethnic violence". KOSOVO & SERBIA. F18 News. Retrieved 23 May 2006. 
  32. "Media fan Kosovo flames". BBC. 2004-03-18. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  33. Full text of the letter in Russian, in the name of 120 000 Serbs in Kosovo and Metochia
  34. "NATO deploys "prudent reinforcements" to Kosovo in response to violence". NATO. Archived from the original on 29 May 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2006. 
  35. "Kosovo clashes 'orchestrated'". BBC. 2004-03-20. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 36.3 36.4 Kosovo clashes 'ethnic cleansing' BBC, March 20, 2004. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  37. 37.0 37.1 NATO rushes troops to Kosovo CNN, March 18, 2004. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  38. U.S State Department Report, published in 2007


  • Humanitarian Law Center, Ethnic Violence in Kosovo, March 2004, PDF


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